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Last week I participated in the ICANN 46 meeting in Beijing as a fellow. It was the second experience in this capacity and I won't get into the details of the ICANN fellowship program and fellows bonding spirit which deserves a separate posting (for a quick glimpse on it you may check this page). Here I will rather point to a few issues that captured my attention during the meeting and will remain on my "follow-up" list.
1. WHOIS review, still an ongoing challenge. After a review team issued a set of recommendations last year, the ICANN Board requested an issue report to review the purpose and accuracy of domain name registration data, which represents the first step of the GNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) that may end up in the adoption of a new ICANN policy and (most likely) a new underlying protocol for domain name registration data. A Whois Expert Working Group (EWG) was created in December last year to address largely the same issues in parallel with the PDP process and it is required to feed into it. The Beijing meeting provided the opportunity for the EWG and the community to present updates on their work - see Next Generation - gTLD Directory Services session, RESTful Whois session, as well as the community meetings on the topic (the 'Thick' Whois PDP WG, the At Large Whois WG). This issue has been on the ICANN agenda for the past 12 years and to the moment no consensus was found in order to significantly alter the way it works, as stakeholders find themselves on divergent positions on some contentious issues - most notably privacy aspects (a good overview is provided in the Preliminary Issue Report on gTLD Registration Data Services). The idea of separating the collection of data (and clearly defining the purpose of collection) from the access to data (and a possible tiered approach to access) seems to gain support and is one of the core current concerns of the working groups, which will also impact on the development of the new underlying technical protocol. So there's some interesting work in progress to follow.
2. The much expected Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Advice was finally delivered at the end of thorough and tiresome week-long debates. In the end consensus was reached for objection against two new gTLD strings: .africa and .gcc, while also identifying a series of strings for further consideration and safeguards. This prompted a strong reaction during the ICANN Public Forum and left an open debate on its follow-up, since it raises concerns on the proposed role of the new gTLD registries in relation to the domain names and online activities of registrants, as well as potential delays of the new gTLD program schedule. The after-meeting interview with the ICANN leaders provides a good hint on the reception of the GAC Advice. This is is certainly an inciting issue to follow.
3. Engagement - the new ICANN mantra. It's something I kept hearing several times a day since the beginning of the meeting, from staff and community members alike. While the calls for involvement and participation (especially from stakeholders groups) are an ICANN constant, the novelty - at least for me who I've been following more closely the ICANN activities only for the past year - constitutes the actual preoccupation of Board and staff in this direction. Besides the charismatic leadership of Fadi Chehadé and his inspirational speeches of in the Opening Session and in meetings with stakeholders, new projects are being developed for making the ICANN more intelligible to newcomers and the community feedback is actively sought in these endavours. A good example in this sense is the Stakeholder Engagement session which was really a workshop where participants were split in teams and requested to contribute with ideas on specific topics, thus creating the sentiment of a concrete outcome and consideration. The real challenge for ICANN now is to keep this momentum and meet the expectations that it raised - and that's again something worth following closely.
It is indeed a new season, to quote Fadi Chehadé, and an exciting one, when a lot of things are happening as we speak that shape the way the Internet will look like in the near future. This may sound bombastic unless you have actually lived an ICANN meeting and looked closer into a policy issue and its implications. It's an eyeopening experience and it's available to anyone interested.